The Lottery and Its Critics

A lottery is a form of gambling in which numbers are drawn to win prizes. Its history dates back centuries. The Old Testament instructs Moses to take a census and divide land by lot, while Roman emperors used lotteries to give away property and slaves during Saturnalian feasts. In modern times, the lottery has been an important source of funding for public projects. But its popularity and widespread acceptance also have made it a focus of criticism. Critics allege that lotteries promote addictive gambling behavior, are a regressive tax on low-income groups, and lead to other abuses. They argue that a state’s desire to raise money through the lottery conflicts with its duty to protect the welfare of its citizens.

In the United States, 37 states and Washington, D.C., operate lotteries. Most of them have several different games, from instant-win scratch-off tickets to daily games where players choose the correct combination of numbers. Lottery proceeds often benefit education, but some go to health care and infrastructure, such as roads and bridges. In addition, the lottery is a popular fundraising tool for political campaigns.

As a result, the lottery’s critics are many and varied. But, at bottom, they are divided on two key issues: whether it is an appropriate function for a government to conduct and its underlying morality.

The critics of the lottery tend to focus on specific features of its operations. They cite research that suggests the game promotes addictive gambling behavior, argues that it is a regressive tax on low-income people, and encourages other forms of abusive gambling. They are also critical of the way a lottery is run as a business, arguing that its profit motive conflicts with a government’s ethical responsibility to promote social welfare.

One of the most powerful themes in Jackson’s story is that scapegoating is a human instinct, and societies often use scapegoats to mark their limits. This was true in Nazi Germany and is certainly true in the patriarchal society of the United States. It is not a coincidence that the lottery scapegoat in Jackson’s tale is a woman, because she is seen as a threat to the community’s traditional values.

The story of Tessie Delacroix is an example of a lottery that has gone very wrong. It illustrates the way that even good people can be caught up in a lottery’s corrupting influence. It also reminds us that a lottery’s primary appeal is its promise of money and the goods it can buy. But we should remember that God’s command to “not covet your neighbors’ houses, wives, servants, oxen, and donkeys” applies just as much to our money as to our neighbor’s belongings. Lottery players are tempted by the false promise that they will solve all of their problems if they can only get lucky with the numbers. But that promise is empty (see Ecclesiastes 5:10). The lottery is a scam.

Posted in: Gambling